Executive Director’s Report 2020

SEPTEMBER 25, 2020

This report falls into two different time frames: certainly, the period encompassing September 2019 through September 2020, but also B.C. and A.D. – before COVID-19 and after the (virtual) death of the virus which has yet to occur – sometime after the introduction of a successful vaccine program, no doubt!

As we have been unable to hold our Annual Meeting onsite, I hope this report will serve to provide an inspiring window on our recent and current Museum world.  Notwithstanding the extremely deleterious effects of the virus on all Museum operations, we have been able to accomplish a terrifically varied combination of educational and cultural events to advance our mission: “to engage the community and the greater public in the evolving history of Benicia and its contributions to the development of our state and country.  Dedicated to our children and future generations, our work fosters understanding, connectivity, identity, and pride.  The Museum complex is at the heart of Benicia’s historic preservation and heritage promotion programs through its exhibits, educational outreach, events and activities, and online archives.”

Thanks to the generous sponsorship by the Benicia and District Rotary and additional funds from Valero,  and the hard work of staff and our many Exhibits Committee volunteers (Jim Lessenger, Bob Rozett, Larry Lauber, Elizabeth Murphy, Allan Gandy, Bev Phelan, John Halliday, Larry Lauber) we have been able to continue our work replacing the old permanent exhibits with new ones, including colorful gallery spaces, informative storyboards, dioramas, and an impressively expanded quantity of artifacts and visual support materials.  Since September of last year, we have installed the following new exhibits:  The Birth of Benicia, California Native American Baskets, Spanish Military Culture – the Spanish Rapier, Benicia Cattle Brands, Matthew Turner – America’s Greatest Shipbuilder, Benicia and the Pony Express, and ongoing work on the Railways and Waterways and Made in Benicia displays.

Our literary volunteers have supplied us with some wonderful new manuscripts:  Jim Lessenger’ book The Benicia State Capitol, published by Arcadia, was the feature of a presentation and book signing “A Capital Capitol” last November, and Allan Gandy has supplied an extremely detailed and original document The Sandstone Powder Magazine at the Benicia Arsenal – Benicia’s Little-Known Gem, as well as a pamphlet for kids about camels (to the huge delight of our visiting youngsters!). Reg Page has supplied a number of interesting articles on Charles P. Stone and is the official Museum photographer, patiently piecing together large documents so that they can be preserved for posterity.

Although our school and senior tours were few due to COVID-19, our Education Outreach Committee has been updating our school hands-on activities, including the refinement of our archeological “dig-sites” (California Native Americans and Pioneers – thank you Randi Scott!) in addition to composing more rainy-day activities and exhibit “treasure hunt” student puzzles.

Pre-COVID-19 closures, the uptick in cultural events of the last quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020 combined a marvelous assortment of music and drama events, including concerts with Golden Bough, The Black Irish Band, Peppino D’Agostino and Carlos Reyes, Legends of the Celtic Harp, and a Mardi Gras Party with Greg Rahn Trio and the Fat Tuesday Brass which was a hugely fun “knees-up”!   Several of these concerts were produced in conjunction with the Benicia Performing Arts Foundation via the City Arts and Culture Commission, which provided performance opportunities for local youth.  B8 Theatre Company delivered a thrilling performance of Strange Ladies, presenting a creative work commemorating the heroines of the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote. (Maureen Williams did a star turn and was as magnificent in her theatrical role as she is in her other role as the Museum Office Manager!)

Post-COVID-19 shutdowns, we have been producing the BHM COVID Quarantine Camelcast, a podcast series featuring history discussions with our last Summer’s intern, Dean Putong and, going forward, a variety of local guest speakers.  This has been a fun project for all, with Benicia residents responding enthusiastically to each recording.

Bev Phelan and her worker bees (Nancy Stiltz, Roberta Garrett, Bob Kvasnicka, Allan Gandy) continue to research, photograph, accession, and upload the many documents and artifacts we continue to receive from an expanding variety of donors.  This work is the invisible part of Museum operations that provides the “meat” for all our other Museum work including our online archives of over 20,000 images.   Fred Paine, meanwhile, keeps our computers and programs up-and-running, sorting out software and licensing problems with alacrity.

Our stalwart Gift Shop helpers, Deb Machado and Penny Stell are, once again, organizing our (online) 2020 White Camel Sale.  Jim Lessenger and Bob Rozett have taken the C-19 closure as an opportunity to do substantial work on cleaning, gardening, and display case renovation, including the train set.

To all of our Museum docents – our onsite tour guides and Museum ambassadors – we miss you!  Prior to COVID-19, the uptick in visitors, prompted by our many new exhibits, was extremely gratifying.  We are hoping to see your smiling faces back here again soon!

Our collective and my personal thanks to Mike Caplin, our current board President, whose leadership and organizational abilities are helping us to ably navigate these difficult times, aided by our Secretary, Judy Furlong, and Treasurer, Lou Alfeld.   It is not surprising that we are faring so well through the combined time and talents of our Museum family – staff, board, volunteers, members, donors, and sponsors. As we begin the process of reopening the Museum, our community will be able to enjoy the many contributions you all have made through your combined efforts!

Finally, please note the new incentives for donations included in the CARES Act summarized below (and do consult your tax advisor or other reliable resources for details) – these new rules make charitable giving a worthwhile financial tool that works as well for the giver as the receiver.

  • Even if you don’t itemize deductions, you can now deduct up to $300 from your adjusted gross income for monetary donations to charities
  • If your do itemize deductions, there is no longer a cap at 60% of your adjusted gross income – if you can make larger gifts, you can now deduct up to 100% of your adjusted gross income for monetary donations to charities
  • If you are 70 1/2 or older, you can still donate up to $100,000 from your retirement account directly to a charity without paying tax on the distribution even though the CARES ACT eliminates the required minimum distributions (RMDs) from many retirements plans in 2020

Donations may be made online through PayPal, or call the office for more information.



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